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In spite of the ubiquity of seasonal and other retail sales, they have been curiously neglected within the marketing literature. This is most surprising, given their impact on profit-margins, brand/store images, supplier-retailer relationships and consumer… Show all
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Erica J. Betts: Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester, UK Peter J. McGoldrick: Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester, UK ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This study is now funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, award no. R000221632, and by the Office of Fair Trading. The evolution of the perpetual "sale"
Every year during the 1980s, British media headlines faithfully recorded the affluent, middle-classes sleeping rough on the streets of London; but this was no "Cardboard City". They were simply eager shoppers braced to do battle in the Harrods and Selfridges seasonal "sales", camping out to beat the inevitable crowds and traffic jams. By the end of the decade however recession was taking its toll on consumer confidence, bringing new fears of unemployment, negative housing equity and unprecedented levels of consumer and mortgage debt (Henley Centre/CIM, 1993). Retailers, increasingly anxious to stimulate spending, resorted to deeper and ever more protracted "seasonal" markdowns. The stream of perpetual "sales" saw stores "marking down prices on a scale not seen before in modern times" (Verdict, 1992). During the 1980s, shopping had become a national sport, a recreational pursuit grounded in a consumerculture characterized by conspicuous consumption, frivolous spending and demands for instant gratification. This culture found an ideal outlet and form of expression in the retail "sales". But recession made consumersmore value conscious and non-essential "sale" purchases lost much of their appeal with harsh new economic realities. Understandably, consumers also became increasingly sceptical of the integrity of many "sales", especially those which "must end soon" but rarely did, and the "never to be repeated" bargain offers which invariably were. Nevertheless, even though consumers do appear disenchanted with the "sales", it should not be assumed that these attitudes will prove especially enduring. The level and popularity of "sale" activity has apparently always been irregular and subject to wide fluctuations (Prus, 1986), although the reasons for this are not well documented in the marketing and retailing literature. Indeed, beyond a cursory mention of their traffic generating or clearance functions, the "sales" have attracted remarkably little attention, with even the most fundamental of concerns such as definitions and objectives largely overlooked (Betts and McGoldrick, 1993). This paper concentrates on one particular set of factors contributing to the variable level and popularity of "sales": those concerning consumer attitudes. Both qualitative and quantitative evidence is presented which contributes to the modelling of the "attitude problem" which has come to afflict many retailers. Reflecting on "sale" strategies may prove to be a timely consideration, given retailers' renewed interest in clear price positioning, restoring margins and some indications of economic recovery. Many stores are now attempting "to get off the price cutting merry-go-round" (Berry, 1986), having seen that "sales" undermine store loyalty, increase price sensitivity and teach consumers to anticipate reduction schedules. Retail "sale"...